Ralph Nader’s take on genre theory.
A Bloody Good Time
Enough has been written about the brilliance of Mad Men that it doesn’t really bear repeating here, but I just had to comment on the utterly insane amazingness of this week’s “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.” On other blogs and TV forums there has been some minor complaining about a slow start to the third season. Then last week there was the storyline last week of Sally pushing another classmate, with a glimpse of her smearing blood across her face. All of which led up to this week, when the bloody, mangled bits of new boss Guy’s foot are splashed across Paul, Ken and Harry, and Joan spends the rest of the episode walking around in a bloody dress. No other show could make the chain of events (including the fact of the John Deere tractor even being in the office in the first place) so inevitable and realistic. (I could see something like this happening on The Sopranos, but there it would be part of some totally surreal sequence.)
And with all of this building up to JFK’s assassination, here’s a great analysis of the way the tractor accident mirrors the famous video of Dallas:
Blog vs. Blog
On a slightly related note: isn’t it funny how certain segments of Internet users have appropriated the word “blog” to mean a post in a comments section? I’ve been noticing this for a while now, and you generally only see it on the Web sites of papers like the Register, whose readers have learned to leave comments but are generally not very Internet savvy. They know that a “blog” is some kind of online writing, but they probably don’t read any blogs and thus don’t distinguish between them and reader comments (which, however, can be integral parts of blogs). I’ve also heard both reporters and sources, many police officers for example, slip into this usage without thinking about it. I wonder whether this will become a widespread use of the word “blog” or fade away as people have more interaction with both blogs and comment sections.
The story of Annie Le — the Yale pharmacology Ph.D. student whose body was discovered in her lab this week — is horrific, and it’s difficult to know how to begin discussing it. But one of the aspects I’ve been watching with interest is how different media outlets have handled the story, and different groups of readers have responded to it. The story broke in the Register as a missing persons report, and the paper’s fantastic cops reporter, Bill Kaempffer, was getting scoops from his myriad police sources right away. Any type of Yale scandal is A1 stuff for the Register, and a gorgeous scientist about to married certainly fit the bill. When I was riding the subway in New York last week, I noticed that the Daily News had picked up the story, highlighting the wedding aspect and placing the story on an inside page. The Times also ran a brief article focusing on the Yale, New-Haven-dangerous trope. Back in New Haven this weekend, the Register’s front page was dominated by a pretty tasteless banner headline, “Bloody Clothes,” and the cesspit that is the Register’s comments section was weighing in with conspiracy theories. And with the discovery of Le’s body Sunday night, the update made the front page of the Times Monday morning.
There’s been a lot of discussion in certain media and feminism blogs in the past few years about the excessive coverage of disappearances and murders of young, white women, versus the lack of coverage for many of the same incidents that happen to people of color. While this story would seem to buck that trend — Le was of Southeast Asian descent — it also perpetuates it in many ways. To my mind, there are three reasons this has become a nationwide story: 1) It involves an Ivy League school, 2) She was young and beautiful, and 3) She was about to get married. While in some ways it’s progress, I guess, to have this level of coverage of Le’s death, it also speaks to how people/women are valued in the news media. In New Haven especially, there are many other crimes against women Le’s age that go largely unreported.
I seem to have steered my entire Genre in Theory and Practice seminar into reading Watchmen (and watching the film, giant blue penis and all). I hope they don’t think I’m some weirdo who only reads ultra-violent, quasi-right-wing comic books.
And therein lies a lot of what I like thinking about when I think about Watchmen and other graphic novels – how we create hierarchies of literature, and why there’s still something somewhat shameful about reading a graphic novel/comic book versus reading “real” literature. I’m actually really excited to talk about all those things in a group, even if the group ends up hating me for it.
D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover :
[O]ne may hear the most private affairs of other people, but only in a spirit of respect for the struggling, battered thing which any human soul is, and in a spirit of fine, discriminative sympathy. For even satire is a form of sympathy. It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life: for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the time of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and freshening.
But the novel, like gossip, can also excite spurious sympathies and recoils, mechanical and deadening to the psyche. The novel can glorify the most corrupt feeling, so long as they are conventionally ‘pure.’ Then the novel, like gossip, becomes at last vicious, and, like gossip, all the more vicious because it is ostensibly on the side of the angels. …
For this reason, the gossip was humiliating. And for the same reason, most novels, especially popular ones, are humiliating too. The public responds now only to an appeal to its vices.
A new direction
For the past year or so, I’ve been struggling with a clichéd but still profound question: what to do with my life. When I was in college this wasn’t an issue; I was sure (well, let’s put it at 85%) that I wanted to be a journalist, and I doggedly pursued a strategy of applying (and applying and applying…) for internships at newspapers, getting my first job at a small daily out West, and moving up to a midsize paper in Connecticut about two years ago. Unfortunately, I began to realize that it wasn’t for me; while I love reporting and writing, I didn’t love doing it on a daily deadline, I didn’t love writing about school board and planning department meetings, and I didn’t love being treated like a child by misogynistic municipal officials. So I decided to return to a desire I had previously pushed to the side: going back to school to get a literature Ph.D. and eventually (if I’m really lucky) become a college professor.
The problem was, I had so long set myself in favor of journalism and against academia that I had trouble convincing myself, and my skeptical boyfriend, that this was really what I wanted. A few days before I’m due to start my Ph.D. program I’m still having trouble committing to the concept. For one thing, I’m feeling a somewhat irrational guilt at leaving the journalism profession. When you make a decision to enter a dying field (no matter how many times you tell yourself it isn’t dying), you have to have a pretty firm conviction that there are good reasons for doing so. Entering the Ivory Tower now makes me feel a little bit like Lord Jim, jumping into the lifeboat and leaving the rest to drown. I also struggle with what I guess you could call a utilitarian question: whether what I’m doing has any “use.” Although not all of the stories I wrote as a journalist were earth shattering, I never doubted that what I was doing served a purpose. And while I won’t miss the nasty phone calls and e-mails (it’s hard to top, “You make your living off the pain and suffering of other people”), it was sometimes nice having that direct connection with readers. In many ways, I feel like I’m about to spend the next part of my life looking ever further inward. Which, funnily enough, is a good way to describe this blog: so far mainly used as an archive of my journalism work, it has a readership of roughly 1 ½ people. So while I think there are good reasons for doing what I’m doing now, I’m certainly going to still be questioning myself for some time to come. Probably a good thing, any way you look at it.
Things I’m looking forward to: Talking about books I love with other people who love them as much as I do; learning lower Manhattan; riding my bike to school (all the way from 103rd and Bway!)
Things I’m not looking forward to: Living all the way at Columbia; not having any money; that vague sense that I (still) don’t know what I’m doing with my life.